Coal and tobacco industries kill more Americans each year than they employ
A new study outlines why the tobacco and coal industries warrant "corporate death sentences."
- A study developed a formula to identify industries that do more bad than good.
- The U.S. coal and tobacco qualify as having a net negative value to society.
- Should we tolerate any industry that makes a profit?
Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University has raised an interesting question: If "The unwritten rule with industry is you get to make money if you're a benefit to society," what about an industry that creates more damage than good? Should such an industry be allowed to continue operation, or should it be shut down?"
In a study just published in Social Sciences on February 18, researchers led by Pearce found: "In the singular search for profits, some corporations inadvertently kill humans. If this routinely occurs throughout an industry, it may no longer serve a net positive social purpose for society and should be eliminated."
This said, his team's research has resulted in a non-political, objective method for determining whether an industry warrants a "corporate death sentence."
The factors that go into the equation
Image source: Wittawat Meunthap / Shutterstock
Pearce cites a very simple way to assess whether or not an industry does more bad than good: Does it kill more people than it employs? Pearce's calculus is based on what he suggests are three unassailable premises, as stated in his paper:
- Everyone has the right to life. This is explicitly called for in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly. In addition, it is intuitively obvious that the right to life is the primary right as it is necessary to be alive to enjoy any other right (i.e., the right to work).
- Everyone has the right to work. This is explicitly called for in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Corporations are large companies or groups of companies authorized to act as a single legal entity (person) to efficiently generate profit for the benefit of humans, and one of their primary additional benefits is job creation. Thus, corporations help facilitate the right to work.
- Human law should give corporations the right to exist if they are beneficial to humanity. Corporations are human constructs created by law to benefit humanity. Thus, in the simplest possible case, corporations can be viewed as good as they create profit and jobs, unless their operation interferes with the right to life of humans they are meant to benefit.
"If we know that life trumps employment because you have to be alive to work," Pearce tells Michigan Tech News, "then for a company or industry to exist it must employ more people than it kills in a year. What this paper has done is set the minimum bar for industry existence."
Pearce acknowledges that, as the paper says, "There are benefits corporations can provide that go beyond employment (e.g., products that provide a benefit, gifts to charity, etc) and also that there are corporate harms that are less severe than death (e.g., adverse ecosystem impacts that harm nature and nonhuman species, which only indirectly effects humans)." Still, those pluses and minuses are difficult to quantify due to inadequate data and the fact that longer data periods are required for smoothing out fluctuations in such numbers.
"Surprisingly," says Pearce, his analysis "showed that there are at least two industries in America right now that are killing more people annually than they employ." That would be the coal and tobacco industries.
Numbers tell the story
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Pearce became interested in developing such a metric while working on a previous study that involved calculating the number of American lives that could be saved in switching U.S. production of electricity from coal to solar.
Of the coal- and tobacco-industry case studies his new research scrutinized, Pearce says, "After running the numbers, the results are shocking. Every coal mining job in the U.S. demands literally one American life every year. For tobacco jobs, it is four times worse. The study concludes both industries warrant corporate death penalties."
The coal industry:
- The industry employs 51,795 people based on data from the United States Energy Information Administration.
- The total number of annual U.S. premature deaths from coal-fired, electricity-based air pollution is 52,015, using U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.
The tobacco industry:
- The industry employs 124,342 people based on data from the North American Industry Classification System.
- The total number of annual U.S. deaths from direct and second-hand smoke is 522,000 using U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.
Life (for workers) after death (of an industry)
Image source: Praethip Docekalova via Shutterstock
Pearce and his co-authors suggest that while not painless, the dissolution of these industries might actually work out well for the people displaced. His team has written previously of the income and health benefits to be enjoyed by coal workers who are retrained to work in the solar energy industry. They've also written about how current tobacco farmers can earn more and reduce a number of risk factors by repurposing their fields as solar farms.
Corporate charter control
The paper suggests the revocation of companies' corporate charters as the most workable means of executing an industry. The charters allow these entities to do business. They could be revoked at the federal level, or in any of the 49 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that retain the right to nullify a charter.
Obviously, the larger issue is summoning public opinion and legislative support for such a mechanism.
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- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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